- If completed, Ma would follow Bezos in buying storied masthead
- Hong Kong-based SCMP was once world's most profitable paper
Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s founder Jack Ma is in talks to buy a stake in the publisher of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, according to people familiar with the matter, in what could make him the latest Internet-industry tycoon to pursue the revival of a traditional newspaper.
Discussions are at an advanced stage, two of the people said, asking not to be identified because the negotiations are private. A signing ceremony will be announced soon, one of the people said. Financial details of the deal weren’t available.
Once the world’s most profitable newspaper, SCMP has followed the path of other mastheads with falling earnings and shrinking circulation as readers shift online. Control of the city’s premier English-language broadsheet has been unchanged since Rupert Murdoch sold most of his stake to Malaysian billionaire Robert Kuok in 1993.
"More Chinese tycoons including Jack Ma are showing interest in media businesses," said Lo Shih-hung, a professor at the National Chung Cheng University’s Department of Communication in Taiwan. "Hong Kong has become an important region for Ma’s overseas expansion strategy."
The SCMP and Alibaba declined to comment. When asked whether he’s interested in buying the SCMP, Ma said in an interview this month that he’s "watching a lot of companies right now." Attempts to reach Kuok’s group that owns the SCMP were unsuccessful.
Alibaba’s Ma would be following in the footsteps of Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos -- who bought the Washington Post in 2013 -- among Internet tycoons snapping up storied brands at a time printed media struggles to compete with Web-based competitors for advertising. Chris Hughes, one of the co-founders of Facebook Inc., bought a majority stake in the New Republic magazine in 2012.
SCMP Group Ltd., which has posted three years of profit declines, has been suspended from trading since February 2013 after the company failed to have at least 25 percent of shares held by minority investors, the minimum proportion required for a company to trade its shares in Hong Kong.
While the 112-year old SCMP newspaper is its most visible asset, the group also has operations in businesses ranging from recruitment to magazines and contract printing.
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The China Daily reported earlier this month that rumors were circulating that Alibaba was in talks to invest in the SCMP Group.
— With assistance by Keith Zhai, Steven Yang, and Lulu Chen